GREEN DAY – 21st Century Breakdown (2009)

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown Green Day’s newest album, 21st Century Breakdown, is nearly 70 minutes long. I say this because anyone who was even casually familiar with the band and their meteoric rise/fall/rise in the 1990’s and into the new millennium should raise their eyebrows at that statement. Hell, the band’s previous rock opera, American Idiot, didn’t even crack the 60 minute mark. And yes, I did say “rock opera” back there, a term the band have upped the ante on with 21st Century Breakdown. Perhaps (or, more realistically, perhaps not) stealing a cue from Swedish prog maestro Daniel Gildenlöw, Green Day have broken the eighteen trakcs on 21st Century Breakdown up into three acts, each one noted with a roman numeral (Act I: Heroes and Cons, Act II: Charlatans and Saints, Act III: Horseshoes and Handgrenades). And while Green Day don’t conjure up The Perfect Element part III: she here, what they do present us with is an album that’s almost too confounding to talk about.

I mean, if you step back and look at the big picture, it really is quite remarkable; the band that gave us Brain Stew and Basket Case are now writing high-brow political concept albums about global sociological decay as seen through the eyes of a fictional couple, Christian (a play on words if ever I’ve seen one – listening to the song Christian’s Inferno quickly will confirm this, even if you’ve never read Dante’s The Divine Comedy) and Gloria (see previous parenthetical notation, but disregard the aforementioned song). Also encouraging is the fact that Green Day (a band who once dealt in three-chord punk) pull off all the musical arrangements on the album with command and ease.

As far modern bands go, 21st Century Breakdown made me think of The Dear Hunter on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, the biggest difference (and the one thing that holds 21st Century Breakdown back at every turn) is that The Dear Hunter’s conceptual material is masterfully executed, while here, it’s too vague and murky to materialize in to anything of real significance – Billie Joe Armstrong & co. summon a lot of different and wildly varying images here, but they don’t ever seem to connect to each other in any way. Now, given that so much of 21st Century Breakdown hinges on the ideas behind it, this failure is a monstrous one, and its very existence condemns the album from entering the pantheon of Rush’s 2112 or The Who’s Tommy.

That being said, you can still pick off individual songs from the album and enjoy them on their own (the last act of the album is particularly strong; musically, it’s some of the best stuff you’re likely to hear on the radio), but doing so seems to go against the very notion of what 21st Century Breakdown is all about. That’s a conundrum if I’ve ever seen one. And it’s one I’m not going to expound upon any more here.

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5 Responses to “GREEN DAY – 21st Century Breakdown (2009)”

  1. I have to say I liked them better when they were singing about masturbation and getting stoned. I haven’t heard the new album (beyond the predictable single) but I thought “American Idiot” was ponderously self-important, and not nearly as smart as it thought. When it comes to politically and socially conscious rock, I’ll take Rage, Springsteen, Young, Dylan, etc over Green Day.

  2. monopolyphonic Says:

    Agreed there, Forrest – especially on the RATM front. Listening to it again this morning, the only thing I can say about 21st Century Breakdown is that, despite it being their biggest album yet, it feels strangely empty.

  3. I’m yet to hear the album, but if it’s anything like American Idiot, I’ll give it a miss.
    I while I’m all for musical development, I think they’re reaching a bit too high with the self-important rock operas.

  4. monopolyphonic Says:

    Agreed, Lauren: rock-opera is a conceptual medium that doesn’t really work well for the band, despite their best efforts to make it so. Like American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown is quite hit or miss, which is a shame considering that their days of making albums like Insomniac seem to be behind them.

  5. […] kind of hard not to compare Let The Dominoes Fall to 21st Century Breakdown . While that album lacked the power of Green Day’s earlier work, at least the band were […]

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